was Hergé really interested in zombies and the voodoo culture?
He may have been aware of it, in so far as he researched material for his books, and it’s alluded to in the Seven Crystal Balls
/ Prisoners of the Sun
two-part story, when the Incas control the explorers through unspecified methods. However, his treatment of the subject suggests that it was fairly shallow, so probably not a big
interest to him.
Work done in the 1930’s by anthropologist and folk-lorist Zora Neale Hurston suggested that the “zombie” of Haitian sorcery would one day be revealed to be not a re-animated corpse back from the dead, but instead a person enslaved by the application of psycho-active drugs. This is roughly the condition the members of the expedition are found in – a persistant trance state, which renders them under the control of others.
Later research has been inconclusive, some saying that she was working along the right lines, and that it is indeed a chemical state induced by the bokor (a Haitian sorcerer) administering powders to the victim, others that it may be a more psychological manipulation of people with underlying mental conditions such as schizophrenia (so not so close to Hergé’s depiction in that case).
The placing of curses on people, or inflicting pain upon them, using dolls is not actually found in Voodoo (which is an organized religion with a belief in posession of the living by spirits of the dead, rather than the dead being re-animated), but may stem from the practices of the bokor; it is also known to a lesser extent in other cultures, even in Europe, but wasn’t apparently associated with the Incas.
Hergé appears to take a fairly broad-brush approach, combining the administering of an agent (whatever the substance which is in the crystal balls) with out-and-out paranormal activity (the dollls and the seemingly telepathic control over the explorers who have fallen victim to the “curse”). This suggests that he may at least have been aware of the debate on the matter – I wonder if perhaps the National Geographic Magazine
(a known source of research for Hergé) did something on the subject?
He doesn’t seem to have let the fact that the Inca people were a pre-Columbian civilization and that the Haitian zombie is post-16th Century stand in the way of his story, so again he is making something original of it.
Like his cursory (and thus inaccurate) understanding the ability of the Incas to predict an eclipse, I’d say that he just saw these practices as pieces of fabulous window-dressing, rather than something he actually believed in.
Remember also, when he was writing the stories the zombie was a dark and mysterious creature from what was seen as an exotic, tropical, romantic background (see films such as Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 I Walked with a Zombie
, which itself addresses the meeting of belief in the zombie tradition and modern medical science).
Although some see the form developing as early as the 1920s with the publication of H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West — Reanimator
and its tale of scientifically revived corpses (Lovecraft doesn’t mention the word “zombie” in relation to his creations), slavering, brain-eating, killer zombies didn’t arrive until after George A. Romero went to work on them in the late Sixties, and have little or nothing to do with what went before.